Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Not 149 More Doctrinal Bullet Points

In my last post on Psalms I gave some reasons why our use of the Psalms is flat. That needs to change. It should BOOM.

By boom I mean literally: make a loud, deep sound. And by boom I mean figuratively: make a dent in the ideological walls of unbelief and rebellion.

Why should we use the Psalms? Here are three reasons for pulling the pin from the Psalter grenade.

1. Psalms are spiritual.

Knowing, speaking, and, yes, singing Psalms is spiritual. That is, it is an evidence that the Holy Spirit is controlling us. Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers,

do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19)

A drunk man may get loud and rowdy and sing his songs off key for the entire bar. He can’t keep it to himself. A man filled with the Holy Spirit can’t keep it to himself either. According to the verses above, a spiritual man will be focused on others and inspired Psalms are part of his vocabulary. Spirit-filled men speak in ψαλμοῖς (psalmois)—many Old Testament psalms, in ὕμνοις (hymnois)—many hymns with religious content, and in ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς (odais pneumatikais)—many songs having to do with the divine spirit. Psalms aren’t the only way we can encourage each other, as if we were playing a party game where we could only speak in lines from Psalms. But lines from Psalms are the only inspired song lyrics we have.

The psalmists were not writing to believers who were filled with the Spirit, but Paul told believers who were filled with the Spirit that the Psalms were appropriate subject matter. Paul also gave this exhortation to a congregation of mostly Gentile believers. He expected that the Spirit would translate the prayers and praises of one nation into many tongues.

2. Psalms are biblical.

This was one of those observations that, once I heard it, I’ve not been able to forget it. The letters of Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians are similar but each contains some distinct emphases. In Colossians 3:16 we see almost the same results of Ephesians 5:18-19 but from a different cause.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Biblical people, the kind we most certainly want to be, are stocked with Scripture and, in particular, the Psalms.

Psalm 1, a psalm about delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it day and night, introduces 149 more psalms, 149 more songs. It does not head the list of 149 more doctrinal bullet points. A melody set to meter would enable meditation and enhance memory. It might even be enjoyable. Songs help us delight more. When we get a song stuck in our head, is that not part of what it means to mediate day and night?

3. Psalms are vital.

Our English word “vital” comes from the Latin vita = life; so it describes something that is absolutely necessary, indispensable to the continuance of life. Vital signs are life’s minimum. God’s Word is vital for life, so says the introduction to the Psalter itself: Psalm 1.

Blessed is the man
[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
(Psalm 1:3–4)

The law of the Lord is to be delighted in, and there are few better ways to do that than singing. Psalm-love encourages us to be planted for sake of life, even when the culture waters dry up around us. For the thirsty, my attempt to explain Psalm 1 is here.

The end for the meditator is that in all that he does, he prospers. The picture returns to the man, not just the tree. There is a solidity, a sweetness, a sap to his life rooted in God’s Word. And note that the contrast is not with a shallow-rooted, brown-branched, barren tree. The contrast is with a hollow husk of chaff. The chaff is dead. But our hearts should be alive with the sound of Psalms.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Adorned with Divine Delight

A fantastic footnote (#10) found in chapter 6 of The Things of Earth (paragraphs added):

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”

—Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Your Paper Is Too Small

Though we know that passages in the Old Testament addressed to Israel were not written to us, Paul said that they are still for us. What happened to them is recorded for us as an example “that we might not desire evil as they did” (see 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

Let’s learn from one of those Old Testament passages, Deuteronomy 28. The entire chapter describes blessings on those who are faithful and curses on those who won’t obey the voice of the Lord. In the section describing disobedience the Lord addresses the cause of their upcoming devastation.

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)

Though they had been given affluence, “the abundance of all things,” they did not abound in thanksgiving. Finding reasons for gratitude required no great exercise of imagination. They only needed to taste the bumper blessings and see that the Lord was good. But they refused. All the gifts that they received without gratitude would soon be repossessed.

We lose what matters most when we won’t be thankful. Instead, we were made to receive from Him and so we “offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14).

Sunday in worship, and Thursday in mashing potatoes, waiting for late guests, wondering why you believe believe in the Lord but your extended family doesn’t, and in a thousand other moments of effort, serve the Lord in gratitude. Though sin tells you that your list for thanks is too small, the real challenge comes when you see that your paper is too small for the list.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Getting Accustomed Again

Noah was 600 years old when the rain came down and the floods came up. He spent one of our entire lifetimes just building the ark. That project kept him busy, but life was basically the same for him until the day the Lord shut him in safety. A year later when he disembarked, life was similar and yet it could not be the same as before.

As Christians, we learned one way of living before the way of salvation. Some spent a long time in the world’s workshop, others less. But length of life in sin isn’t an excuse for staying in sin; we are all called to leave the old and live in the new. Naturally this is difficult. We have to relearn how to talk, how to relate, how to work, how to worship. We had ways of going about it before, now we have to get accustomed to going about it like Christ.

Some persons want to get on the ark and get off again with everything the same as before. They want salvation from sin and to keep living in ways that required their salvation. They might as well try to stay dry while giving a bath to a pack of lions.

The church is the people relearning to walk. We don’t always take every step in the right direction, but we keep coming together as fellow-citizens of Christ’s Kingdom to renew our training in faithful obedience. The communion meal is part of the program reminding us to give thanks to God who sent us a Savior from the flood of judgment we deserved.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

He Condemned the World

The world prefers that we do not confess when we disobey God. For that matter, the world prefers when we do not obey God. It might seem as if this puts us in a position where we cannot win. By faith we know that it means we are.

Noah showed how this works.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)

Noah believed God and did all that God commanded him, and look what it accomplished: “by this he condemned the world.” His obedience to build a boat–not his letters to the editor, his weekly sermon podcast, or his public revival meetings–declared the disobedience of the world. Noah trusted and submitted to God and, because his generation saw him do it, they were accountable for it. They couldn’t say that they didn’t know.

They were responsible for 100 years of mockery-of-mouth toward the ark-itect, 100 years of laughing off the ridiculous idea of rain, 100 years of evidence they couldn’t un-see.

Just because our obedience isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean that it isn’t as effective in condemning the world. Even when we disobey but then acknowledge our sin and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ, we show the world what they should do. By faith we trust the judgment of God on His Son, by faith we expect the judgment of God by His Son, and by faith we become the heirs of righteousness. Our obedience of faith is antithetical worship and a witness to the unbelieving culture.